Carving Katie Waissel

Last year, I carved my first 'proper' pumpkin design, creating my own carving pattern from a photograph.

This year I wanted to create a Katie Waissel carving pattern - her strong features and distinctive hair seemed a good starting point for a recognisable result.

Below is a comparison of the photo I worked from, alongside the finished result - along with the step-by-step process I followed to get from one to the other.

Creating the Pattern

Start off with a good, clear portrait photograph of your intended subject.

I used the photo of Katie below - notice it includes her entire face and hair, with no microphone or other foreground object blocking any part of the view. I also happen to think it's quite a nice photo of her.

Next, roughly paint out the background, as you won't be carving any of this.

You don't have to use black and white, but stick to two colours throughout - one for the carved portions of your pumpkin, and one for the skin and flesh you'll leave behind.

It's not important until later, but try to remember the parts you carve out will become the highlights in your finished design, whereas the parts you leave behind will create the shadows.

Now, you can use a professional paint package to automatically detect the highlights in your picture, but there's no real need to do that.

This year, I just used Paint, drawing my own two-tone design over the photo where I thought the brightest highlights were, and focusing on the features I thought deserved the most attention.

Don't over-complicate your design, but remember you can simplify it later - once you've painted over a piece of fine detail, it can be hard to draw it back in by hand.

My first attempt looked like this:

It's actually not bad as a piece of Katie Waissel clip art, if that's what you were aiming for!

However, it'd be a nightmare to carve all of those little wiggles and bumps, so I needed to simplify my pattern.

I painted over some of the finer detail to make shapes I knew I could carve:

One final tweak, because I don't really like that triangle at the right-hand side of the design.

It marks where Katie's left ear is in the original photo, but I don't think it really adds anything to the design - and I wanted the central features of Katie's face to grab most of the attention.

So, I painted it out:

Tracing the Design

Now look, if you get permanent marker on your laptop screen, don't come crying to me. OK? I'm just telling you the way I did it.

We're out of greaseproof paper, so I couldn't trace the design that way. To be honest, I did that last year, and it was hard to fold the paper around the pumpkin to transfer the pattern on to it.

Instead, this year I used cling film. It clung to my laptop screen during the tracing, and it clung nicely to the surface of the pumpkin when transferring the design on to it - but be careful, you'll need to use permanent marker to draw on plastic, and if the nib goes through, your laptop screen's gonna take some cleaning.

The other thing to remember, if you're tracing directly from an LCD display, is not to press too hard, or you risk damaging the liquid crystal. Some monitors have a hard glass layer to avoid that happening (although probably not solely intended for pumpkin-carving...).

Carving the Design

I list the tools I used below. They're nothing too fancy - a needle, a flat-edged screwdriver and a citrus knife.

The latter's probably hardest to find, but I promise you it's worth it, particularly if you get the OXO citrus knife I've pictured below.

Start with the big, easy sections. Cut them out roughly, staying within the lines, and then you can add fine edging detail and widen out the holes if necessary.

Be particularly careful in places where two cut-out segments are close together; you need to leave enough skin and flesh to support the rest of the design.

In my case, I actually painted in a bit more of a gap in some of those areas during the design stage, to make sure I didn't cut through from one cut-out to another by accident during the carving.

The eyes and teeth are the finest details in this pattern, but they weren't too challenging.

I used the tip of the citrus knife for the pupils - it doesn't actually go all the way through the flesh, but deep enough for some light to show through, giving a good feeling of depth.

Likewise with the teeth, I used the screwdriver head to punch out individual teeth, again not going all the way through, which left the faintest of dividing lines between them.

Once the skin is carved, cut away some of the extra flesh from the back - I found it easier to put the knife through from the outside of the pumpkin, but it depends on how big yours is and how big you made the hole in the top.

Add a candle and light, and see what it looks like:

The Tools

You will need a sharp knife, basically. I use a citrus knife identical to the one below.

OXO Citrus Knife

Made by OXO, this knife is perfect for pumpkin carving. Its pointed tip can be used for fine detail (such as the eyes) or for pinpricking out the outline of larger cut-away sections.

Unlike some citrus knives, this OXO one has both serrated and smooth sections of blade. It really is an all-round great tool for hacking away big chunks of pumpkin, and for smartening up the edges afterwards.

You may also benefit from using:

  • a needle or pin for superfine details like glints of light in the eyes

  • a small, flat-edged screwdriver (I used one to punch out the teeth in my Katie Waissel pumpkin)
A spotlight or torch can also help. Use it to light the inside of your pumpkin without faffing about with candles, and you can see how your design is coming along before it's completed.

IT'S NOT CHEATING, OK? Even Neil Buchanan checks on his big Art Attacks with a crane-mounted camera, so he knows where to make adjustments.

2010's Effort

This was actually my second foray into face-carving - last year's effort was the actress Darcy Tyler (hint: don't Google her at work. Yeah, she's that kind of actress).

Darcy's slightly haunted look in the photo was too good to resist. The carving pattern was very different to the one I used for the Katie Waissel effort above, with a large cutout portion for most of Darcy's face, but the finished effect wasn't bad for a first effort.

I'm not sure who I might try to carve next, but it's a weirdly rewarding process - particularly as it's not until the pumpkin is lit that you can tell whether or not a decent likeness has been achieved.